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Sweeney’s Booknotes: A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards

Nathan A. Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble, eds., A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

A Reader's GuideAs I have noted in my blurb in the front of this book, “Christians wanting to dip into Edwards’s daunting prose but seeking expert help in doing so will find it in this book. The tour guides are clear, edifying, and reliable. They don’t discuss all of Edwards’s massive body of work, but they treat most of his greatest hits—and do so in the service of what Edwards, quoting [the biblical book of] James, called ‘true religion.’”

Nathan Finn (Union University, Jackson, TN) and Jeremy Kimble (Cedarville University, Cedarville, OH) have assembled a fine panel of evangelical intellectuals to produce a truly Edwardsean introduction to Edwards’ works. As they note in the “Introduction,” every contributor to this enterprise “is . . . a convictional evangelical who resonates personally with Edwards’s spiritual vision and wants to commend his writings to others so that they too might be encouraged, convicted, and challenged by this great pastor-theologian” (p. 19).

After a “Foreword” by Ken Minkema and the editors’ “Introduction,” the volume leads off with a winsome opening chapter by one of its publisher’s leading editors, Dane Ortlund, an Edwards scholar with a Ph.D. from Wheaton, “How to Read Jonathan Edwards.” In the evangelical spirit of the volume as a whole, Ortlund’s very first paragraph begins and ends with a striking theological assertion: “To read Jonathan Edwards is to see God” (p. 23). Thus the “fundamental prerequisite” to reading Edwards rightly “is that you must be born again” (p. 25), Ortlund adds a bit later. And for born again readers, Ortlund states from experience, Edwards “turns . . . postcard views of Christ and the beauty of authentic Christian living into an experience of the real thing. . . . Edwards gives us longings for God and for holiness that are more satisfying than even our best joys currently are” (p. 24).

The rest of the book’s chapters introduce one or more of Edwards’ most important texts, offer the most salient aspects of these writings’ historical background, provide a summary and detailed analysis of their contents, and apply them to the lives of contemporary readers.

The book concludes, fittingly, with pastor John Piper’s essay on his admiration for Edwards, “A Personal Encounter with Jonathan Edwards: A Mind in Love with God,” pp. 209-29, which is adapted from material published first in The Reformed Journal in 1978 and expanded upon in one of Piper’s best-selling books, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (1998). The volume as a whole, in fact, is dedicated to Piper.

Here is a peek at the table of contents:

Introduction (Nathan A. Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble)

  1. How To Read Jonathan Edwards (Dane Ortlund)
  2. Autobiographical Spiritual Writings (Nathan A. Finn)
  3. Revival Writings (Jeremy Kimble)
  4. Justification by Faith Alone (Michael McClenahan)
  5. Religious Affections (Gerald McDermott)
  6. The Life of David Brainerd (Rhys Bezzant)
  7. Freedom of the Will (Joe Rigney)
  8. Original Sin (Robert Caldwell)
  9. A History of the Work of Redemption (Sean Michael Lucas)
  10. Edwards’s Affectional Ethics (Paul Helm)

Appendix: A Personal Encounter with Jonathan Edwards: A Mind in Love with God (John Piper)

As you have surely seen by now, this project is produced by and for evangelicals. Other Christians, not to mention non-Christians, will likely feel as though its chapters were not written mainly for them. Nonetheless, it serves its target audience admirably.